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Lulu in Marrakech [NOOK Book]


The two-time Pulitzer Prize and three-time National Book Award-nominated author of Le Divorce returns with a mesmerizing novel of double standards and double agents

In Lulu in Marrakech, Diane Johnson brilliantly exposes the manners and morals of the cultural collision between Islam and the West. Lulu Sawyer arrives in Marrakech, Morocco, hoping to rekindle her romance with a worldly Englishman, Ian Drumm. It's the perfect cover for her ...
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Lulu in Marrakech

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The two-time Pulitzer Prize and three-time National Book Award-nominated author of Le Divorce returns with a mesmerizing novel of double standards and double agents

In Lulu in Marrakech, Diane Johnson brilliantly exposes the manners and morals of the cultural collision between Islam and the West. Lulu Sawyer arrives in Marrakech, Morocco, hoping to rekindle her romance with a worldly Englishman, Ian Drumm. It's the perfect cover for her assignment for the CIA?tracing the flow of money from well-heeled donors to radical Islamic groups. While spending her days poolside among Europeans in villas staffed by maids in abayas, and her nights at lively dinner parties, Lulu observes the fragile and tense coexistence of two cultures. But beneath the surface of this polite expatriate community lies a sinister world laced not only with double standards, but double agents.

As in her previous novels, Diane Johnson weaves a dazzling tale in the great tradition of works about naïve Americans abroad, with a fascinating new assortment of characters as well as witty and timely observations on the political and sexual complexities between Islamic and Western culture.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Fans of Johnson's NBA finalist Le Divorce will know what to expect: a fish-out-of-water story about a clash of cultures. Still, the tone and scope of this agreeable if quiet story owes more to the author's early work-Persian Nights, in particular-than the better-known ones about Franco-American culture clashes. Like that 1987 book, this one has more than a soupçon of politics thrown into its cultural comedy of manners. Lulu Sawyer is a CIA agent who arrives in Morocco, both to rekindle her romance with worldly English boyfriend Ian and to trace the flow of Western money to radical Islamic groups. She meets with characters both Western and Eastern, which allows for some typically Johnsonian observations ("[Honor killing is] not so common among Algerians.... It's usually the Turks," opines one character). The book works best in small moments and in scenes involving the supporting characters, but the central plot-about Lulu and Ian's relationship-never quite catches fire, and Lulu-as-CIA-agent seems tired and unnecessary. Most fans will wade through the overdetermined plot to get to the sly asides and the astute observation that are and always have been Johnson's forte. (Oct.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

In her first novel in five years (after L'Affaire), Johnson moves operations out of France and south to Morocco. In a Notorious-style intrigue, Lulu Sawyer is a CIA spy infiltrating the expatriate community in Marrakech. While undercover, she stays at the villa of her wealthy British boyfriend, where she meets a wide cast of characters who could all be innocent bystanders or double agents. They include her Moroccan contact, a young French-Muslim girl escaping certain death in Paris, a gorgeous Saudi wife, and a brother come to exact an honor killing. Morocco is not an original location for a spy story (think Casablanca and The Man Who Knew Too Much), but it works well as a showcase for modern issues like Muslim extremists, terrorism, and money laundering. Sprinkled with deception, romances, and quotes from the Qu'ran, this novel makes a good read, despite its rather unsatisfactory ending. Johnson's Francophile fans may be disappointed with this change in location from her popular Paris-set novels (Le Divorce, Le Mariage, L'Affaire), but other readers, particularly those interested in spy stories or mysteries with a strong female protagonist, will enjoy this. Recommended for fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ6/1/08.]
—Anika Fajardo

Kirkus Reviews
Johnson (L'Affaire, 2003, etc.) breaks new ground by making her American expatriate a CIA spy in Morocco. Thirty-something Lulu Sawyer is on her second assignment. In Kosovo she had begun an affair with an Englishman, Ian Drumm, a wealthy businessman based in Marrakech, where Lulu is now posted. Her cover will include her affair and her work on female literacy programs. Her low-level mission is to gather intelligence on the money trail feeding terrorists. She will be disowned if caught, but that's OK with Lulu, who's looking for adventure and happy to be reunited with Ian at his luxurious estate with its colorful houseguests, both British and American expats. This is not a conventional espionage novel. While Johnson tracks Lulu's tradecraft, she also explores the Western/Islamic divide, illustrated most vividly by different attitudes toward Islam's great prize, virginity, and the dilemma of their neighbor Suma, a young Parisian Muslim in flight from her brother Amid, bent on vengeance for her presumed loss of virginity. The plot thickens when Amid arrives in Marrakech followed by Lulu's case officer, who has tagged him a terrorist. Another complication arises when a Saudi woman, Gazi, leaves her husband for the sanctuary of Ian's home and Lulu realizes they've been conducting their own affair. It's even possible that Ian himself is in cahoots with the terrorists. Bombs go off around the city and Lulu finds herself a principal in a kidnapping that ends in a death. The Americans have messed up; Lulu is one of the fall guys. By now she has grasped that she's "too goody-two-shoes" to be a successful spy, while her love for Ian has deepened. Curiously, though, Johnson has her act out ofcharacter, breaking up with Ian and taking another assignment in London. As stimulating as Johnson's previous work, but there are too many loose ends (an unexplained fire, the fate of a kid nabbed by Moroccan security) and the resolution disappoints. Agent: Lynn Nesbit/Janklow & Nesbit
The Barnes & Noble Review
I am determined not to let ideology, whether of love or patriotism, get the better of me again. So says the eponymous heroine of Lulu in Marrakech, the 15th novel from the prolific Diane Johnson. With novels such as Le Divorce, Le Mariage, and L'Affaire, Johnson has long established a mastery of the comedy of manners, particularly as a consequence of culture clash among American expats, the French, and the English. In a move likely to take longtime readers off guard, Johnson has upped the ante in this book, exploring a fictional mileu -- a tale of espionage in the post-9/11 era. Her star: a not-very-savvy spy who struggles to resolve two missions, one on behalf of U.S. national security, the other, a matter of romantic insecurity.

Thirty-something California native Lulu Sawyer (not her "christened name"), neither especially world-traveled nor world-wise, signed on with the CIA as a "human intelligence-seeking" agent to feed her desire for adventure. Before coming to Marrakech, Lulu performed a mission in Kosovo, where she worked, both overtly and covertly, with an international rescue organization, but it seemed the only adventure she found was an affair with a rich Englishman humanitarian, Ian Drumm -- the Mr. Darcy to her Elizabeth -- who knows nothing of her association with the Agency. Ian has recently relocated to an estate in Marrakech, where he frequently entertains English and French houseguests, as well as his next-door neighbors, a wealthy Saudi couple, the Al-Sayads -- the exquisite Gazi and her controlling husband, Khaled -- and their French-Algerian secretary, Suma Bourad. Suma, it turns out, is on the run from her brother Amid, who questions her virtue and is allegedly determined to exact an honor killing.

To the mind of Lulu's handling officer, Sefton Taft -- an elusive and cryptic Charlie Townsend–like figure who hopes his angel will demonstrate some moxie -- these insular environs, with their nonstop poolside tea and cocktail parties, are ripe for information gathering on the money trail between Europeans and fundamentalist Islamic terrorists. Taft dispatches his lovelorn charge, who is admittedly "a little frightened of Islam," with a mandate to reignite the romance with Ian and trace the sources.

The fact that the imperceptive Lulu has any modicum of success is a miracle, so focused is she on her love for Ian; even the mystery of his growing inaccessibility to her only becomes apparent when she happens upon the sight of him consoling Gazi, with whom it turns out he's been involved for years. If not for the guidance of her point person, Colonel Barka, and her boss, Taft, she might have forgotten that her romance is a cover for her mission, not the other way around. But, on the credit side, Taft withholds a considerable amount of direction and information because he believes "real ignorance makes you less vulnerable in interrogation" -- and Lulu cannot pull off a poker face.

So what does Lulu do all day, then? Throughout much of this page-turning but ultimately disappointing novel, she spends her time with fellow house guest Posy Crumley, the pregnant young wife of an English poet, who is ambivalent about her impending motherhood and frustrated by her seemingly interminable stay in Morocco. The author bequeaths Posy an acid tongue, lending voice to the racism and deepening cultural resentments between the Christian expatriates and the Muslims, as when she says things like: "Islamic men should just be nuked, or put on a desert island, and all the children raised by English nannies with sensible views, to start them out on a better footing."

If not for Lulu's intensifying entanglements in the dramas of Gazi and Suma, both fleeing men convinced of their possible, punishable indiscretions -- in Taft's terms, the "embattled bastion of beleaguered Muslim females" -- she may never have questioned the true identities of nearly everyone she's encountered, or led the Agency to the people they were pursuing. On the first occasion that Lulu is called to spy action, it's as a friend -- Gazi begs her to get the key to her husband's safe to retrieve her passport -- and she panics and botches the mission, earning her Khaled's ire. But it's her official business that tragically and inadvertently leaves her with blood on her hands -- as an accomplice to two violently ham-fisted American agents -- and threatens her with criminal charges.

We never really understand how the clueless and aptly named Lulu has come to be retained by the CIA, and that's Johnson's central misstep. It's not so much a sloppy tale of espionage that does in Lulu in Marrakech; it's the more surprising fact that Lulu herself is the least realized character in the book. Perhaps that was Johnson's intent -- for Lulu to remain a stranger to us just as she remains a stranger to herself, which, I suspect, is why she was drawn to the Agency life, to forget her personal history and forge a new identity. How else to explain that we never learn Lulu Sawyer's real name? Is Lulu so deeply entrenched that she can't even confide to the reader? Lulu says early on in the novel, "I didn't know what [my employers] saw in me, yet I was prepared to defer to them; I expected to discover, eventually, some property in myself that I would recognize as validating their view." If only we could see Lulu make some kind of genuine self-discovery -- then we'd have access to the vital human intelligence Johnson so often delivers. --Kera Bolonik

Kera Bolonik's writing has appeared in The New York Times,, Slate, the Forward, and Bookforum, among others. She lives in Brooklyn.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781440633195
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 10/7/2008
  • Sold by: Penguin Group
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 486,180
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Diane Johnson
Diane Johnson is the author of the bestselling novel Le Divorce, a 1997 National Book Award finalist, as well as twelve other books, including the novels Persian Nights, Health and Happiness, Lying Low, The Shadow Knows, and Burning (all available in Plume editions). She divides her time between San Francisco and Paris.

Good To Know

In our exclusive interview, Johnson shared some fun facts about herself:

"I worked for the UCLA library for a few months when I was 19 -- otherwise I never had a job until I became a professor, and I know people debate whether that is a job -- perhaps it's a privilege or a scam. So I'm not sure I've ever had a real job. My writing comes from life and from books, as everyone's does, and from my head. I try to nourish my head with art and wandering...."

"I am rather domestic and like to cook and sew, though not to do housework. And I love to ski. To wander around. To read. Am interested in animals and politics."

"I am always appalled when people send me books that they think I will like because of what the books I write are like. I almost always think they are too light and silly, and it rather hurts my feelings to see what people imagine. I don't really like to read novels -- I find it more amusing to write them to read them, but maybe this is only because reading them gets in the way of what I am trying to write. I am reading Max Weber at the moment, and some early Henry James -- The American. I am fond of a lot of people and try to make time to see them. Life seems to sweep by at such speed...."

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    1. Hometown:
      Paris, France, and San Francisco, California
    1. Date of Birth:
      April 28, 1934
    2. Place of Birth:
      Moline, Illinois
    1. Education:
      B.A., University of Utah; M.A., Ph.D., UCLA, 1968

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 2
( 11 )
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 9 of 11 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 24, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    I liked it

    I had not read any of Ms. Johnson's books before. I picked this one up at Barnes and Noble and was unsure about its quality after reading other reviews. I don't know anything about Morocco, but I think the story is less to do with the accuracy of Morocco and more about bringing up questions about how different cultures can learn to appreciate each other. I was very interested in the story and also the outcome. I connected with Lulu and wanted to know how things turned out. I have not read many spy books, but felt this was an interesting twist to a book primarily for women. It includes romance, mystery, and thoughts on politics and multi-culturalism. Check it out!

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 29, 2008

    What Marrakech is she talking about?

    I¿m an American who has lived in Marrakech for nearly 30 years and after reading this book, I¿m wondering what Marrakech the author is talking about? She passes off a mish-mash of foods, traditions, names and clothing from other parts of the Islamic world that have nothing to do with Morocco. There are so many factual errors¿there¿s no Moroccan dish called poulet au poivres rouges no raisins in a pigeon pastilla, and no goats in the trees on the Casablanca road, to name a few¿that I couldn¿t help wondering if the author was going to set her spy story in Marrakech, why on earth didn¿t she take the trouble to get the details right? There are also so many inaccuracies in her descriptions of the relations between Muslims and Christians that it would seem to add even more fuel to the fire of misunderstandings that already exist between us and the Islamic world. If you want to get an authentic look at life in Marrakech as seen by a Western woman, read another book: ¿Zohra¿s Ladder & other Moroccan Tales.¿

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 31, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    A colossal waste of time

    This is a story with an identity crisis. Is it a spy story? Is it a romance? Is a statement about Islam? Is it a portrayal of American naivete abroad? Who knows? The author seems to be everywhere and nowhere at once. She doesn't fully develope any of the characters. It's hard to relate or sympathize with any of them including the main character, Lulu. I know that the CIA has made mistakes in the past, but even they wouldn't hire someone so ignorant and uninformed as Lulu. If anyone wishes to read this book, I recommend not purchasing it, but borrowing it. I read it for my book club and, at the end of our discussion, we decided to donate all our copies to charity. None of us desired to keep it as part of our personal collections.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 6, 2009

    A Lulu of a waste of time!

    With such a lovely book jacket and a fun title, I was greatly disappointed by this book. The title character, Lulu, is allegedly a California girl who works for an unnamed division of the US government that does undercover work. Yet Lulu is so inept at undercover, one believes that she could never even play hide and seek as a child! The author is plainly British, as evidenced by her word usage. Lulu speaks words and phrases that no self respecting Californian - or any twentysomething American, for that matter - would ever prounounce. The plot is mostly unbelievable and pointless. Lulu accomplishes nothing and learns even less. I, however, have learned my lesson about being seduced by book jackets and titles.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 1, 2009

    Lulu was not a lulu

    I've read hundreds of books in my lifetime and can honestly say there have been less than 5 that I didn't finish. This almost was one, though. I just couldn't seem to really care about Lulu or any of the other characters and had to force myself to finish the book. I kept thinking it would get better, but it didn't. Pretty much a waste of time.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 18, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted July 20, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted October 25, 2008

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 18, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing 1 – 9 of 11 Customer Reviews

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